Category: <span>thoughts by Marilyn Ehle</span>

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The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”  Psalm 103:8

God’s goal for His children – those in whom he lives because they have invited Him in – is to be increasingly transformed. We are to eagerly submit to His “change process” so that when people see us, they catch a glimpse of God. We know his image in us is a mere shadow of his character, but it is a shadow.

What characteristics of God do I most need?

God, I believe, lovingly waits for us to take hard looks at our personalities, lifestyles, habits to see where we need Him to begin – or accelerate – the transformation process.

When I read that God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love,” I can ask myself if those same characteristics are becoming more a reality in my life. Am I looking at difficult people with compassion? Do I react with grace to those who are rude? Does my temper flash or am I learning to think long before reacting? Does my love for individuals and groups, especially those most unlike me, roll relentlessly like ocean waves?

God will work in our lives with great freedom when we give him permission to do so.

Then people will see Jesus in us.

By Marilyn Ehle
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“After Rehoboam’s position as king was established and he had become strong,  he and all Israel with him abandoned the law of the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 12:1

Self-sufficiency is a much admired quality in many parts of the world.

We applaud the woman or man who became successful against the odds of an impoverished childhood, limited education or repeated setbacks. We encourage our children to “make something of themselves,” to be the best that they can be.

But success and strength can become dangerous when uncoupled from reliance upon our Creator God, when we assume autonomy instead of recognition that all we are and all we accomplish are from the hand of a gracious God.

In his book, The Alexander Complex, Michael Meyer writes, “Alexander has been dead for twenty-three-hundred years, but there have always been people who share his spark… They live in the grip of a vision. Work and career take on the quality of a mission… And because (these people) are talented and convinced that they can change the world, they often do.”

Unfortunately, many who pursue such goals begin to think their success is due primarily to their own goodness, wealth or intellect. They either have not heard or choose to ignore a warning God gave His people: “Remember how the Lord your God led you… Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God…Otherwise…your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God
(Deuteronomy 8).

God asks us to be strong and courageous, to work hard in and for His Kingdom, and always to recognize the true source of our strength and courage.

by Marilyn Ehle
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“…it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.Philippians 2:13

The warning signs are common where road crews are either repairing existing highways or building new ones: Slow Down: Work in Progress. To emphasize the importance of slower speeds throughout these work zones, heavy fines are levied on those who disobey.

Christ followers are taught that spiritual growth is a lifetime affair. In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases God’s glorious goal for us this way: He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. (Romans 8:29) But often we are impatient with the speed with which God works. Because God knows His way is the best way, he actually takes a lifetime for the process! In one version of the Bible the word “wait” is used 129 times while the word “hurry” is translated only sixteen times, and is never used of or by God.

In addition to acknowledging God’s slow and progressive work in us, it is necessary for us to more closely match our speed to His. Most who live in Western countries believe that fast is better. I don’t like waiting at traffic lights. I look for the shortest line at the store or bank. I grow impatient if the clerk is not—in my opinion—working efficiently. All this dribbles over into my spiritual life. Surely five minutes a day with God is sufficient? Swiftly reading through the Bible so I check off that I have read it in 365 days seems to earn me a badge as Good Christian.

How different is the process of slowly reading only a few verses, perhaps only a few lines, and then stopping to meditate on them. In Isaiah 31:4 we find these words: “As a lion growls…over its prey…” Eugene Peterson writes “that word ‘growl’ was frequently used for reading the kind of writing that deals with our souls.”* Isaiah repeats the word later to describe the cooing of a dove (38:14). It has the meaning of slowly savoring the words before us, taking unhurried pleasure in them.

For God’s work to be best accomplished in us, we must learn to slow to His pace. We must observe the signs: Slow Down: work in Progress.

By Marilyn Ehle
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“Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:19-20

It was a fitting song for a New Year’s Eve service: “God of our life, through all the circling years, we trust in you.  In all the past, your hand we view.  God of the past, our times are in your hand.”*

We sang with a sense of gratitude and faith. In the beautiful sanctuary, surrounded by friends and in anticipation of the bread and wine we would soon share, the words slipped easily from our lips. We have seen his hand and we have trusted; we basked in his presence.

But then we came to the first line of the final stanza. ”God of the coming years, through paths unknown we follow you. The past is past, we cannot change any of its triumphs or losses. We now face the future and its sure challenges, its unknown paths.”

We dare not merely mouth the words; God hears every whisper of every song. Will we follow him as we promise in music? His part is to never leave or forsake us; our part is to follow through all the stanzas of our lives.

(*God of Our Life – by Hugh T Kerr)

Good Shepherd, it is so easy to sing the words and even to mean them to some degree. Help me carry the song into every moment of every day, singing to you.

By Marilyn Ehle
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“Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God…the fruit of lips that give thanks.”  Hebrews 13:15

Why is praise called a “sacrifice?  I believe it is because true praise given in the less-than-ideal situations of life indicates that I sacrifice my right to grumble about people, circumstances and God; I willingly forsake action which ‘comes naturally,’ is ‘only human’ and which ‘everyone’ indulges in.

Too often the creed of commerce demands that I look out for Number One, make sure that my accomplishments are noted and rewarded, fight for what the world says I deserve. It is right and good to expect proper remuneration for work well done, but we have a higher calling. As one man put it, in every place of employment the Christian works to lovingly ‘establish a beachhead for the Kingdom of God.’

With that higher goal in mind, I will be called upon to give up some of my rights, perhaps see my rights go up in flames and know that I have willingly placed them upon blazing altar rocks. This is not accomplished without careful thought and pain, yet the sweet aroma coming from the fire brings an indescribable contentment to the soul and honor to the Father.

Help me, Father, to see the glow and smell the aroma of the sacrifice; train my eyes toward the beauty and away from the ashes.  Help me understand that you never require sacrifice without uncountable blessing.

By Marilyn Ehle
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Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

My fishing experience is limited to the times I accompanied my parents to a lake in central Michigan. Leaving a simple rented cabin each morning, we rowed a small boat to the center of the lake where we baited our hooks and quite gently tossed our lines into the water. Admittedly, I spent more time reading a book than fishing, but my memory is that of lazy days in the sun and delicious suppers of the catch of the day.

Fly fisherman—who cast their lines into streams or lakes go about their sport in a different way. In fact, one man described fly fishing as “an incredible art form, a skill beyond any other form of fishing…” Another writes “Learning proper casting form…is essential to the ability to catch fish and (can be)…very enjoyable.”

The word “cast” as used by Peter and recalled in Psalm 55:22, is crucial to our understanding of what it means to live free from anxiety. Peter uses the word in a tense that means a “one-point-in-time action, although it may actually take place over a period of time.” It is the latter part of the definition that brings relief to me. How often have I “cast” a burden on God only to realize hours (or minutes!) later that I have retrieved my burden as though it were something too precious to give away. Was God perhaps unwilling or unable to bear my burden?

A fly fisherman develops his skill by repeatedly moving out into the stream, wise to the currents but unafraid. He knows that it may take many casts to find the hidden places where fish gather. He has practiced the “art form.” Casting my anxiety on God will take practice. Instead of discouragement when we find ourselves worrying about the same thing we have given over to God, we simply do it again knowing that our wise and gracious Father understands that we are novices. Gradually we learn to trust the care He offers.

by Marilyn Ehle
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“…I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT)

Theater critic, Brooks Atkinson, once said, “Drop the last year into the silent limbo of the past. Let it go, for it was imperfect.” Drop, let go, forget – that’s easier said than done. People, events, and circumstances of this past year—perhaps past years—continue to nag at us. Disappointments, betrayals, and losses creep into our minds to disturb the peace that God promises.

How do we move on when our spirits have been wounded, or our families disrupted?

Several words used by the apostle Paul give us clues about the process so necessary for forward movement. First there is the word “focus,” meaning to concentrate on. Instead of allowing our thoughts to meander into the morass of the past, we choose to deliberately think of the future. This in no way means denial, but rather a purposeful action involving looking ahead to what God may have in store.

What about “forget”? This word has within it the idea of neglect, e.g., giving less weight to what has happened in the past, refusing to dwell on those things that disturb our peace and threaten the future God has planned for us.

And then there is “press on.” Here I imagine a runner, surrounded by competitors, just about to cross the finish line. The race has been long, the runner is almost exhausted and she finally sees the ribbon extended across her path. Determined to win the race and knowing that any part of her body must cross that ribbon in order for victory to be declared, she stretches out her arms—she presses on.

This is not a once-a-year process, but rather a daily examination of the hours just past and the glorious future of the day ahead. The heavenly prize is definitely within reach. Let go. Press on.

Question: How has God helped you move beyond hurt and into forgiveness and freedom?

By Marilyn Ehle
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Cast all your anxiety on Him for He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

Words of an old hymn immediately catch one’s attention: “Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear.”

Why is it we seem so willing to bear our own burdens, live outside the borders of peace, and shoulder unnecessary pain when God stands with arms outstretched to relieve us of all?  The word “cast” has within it the meaning of throwing with deliberation or intention. We can trust God to accept all that we give to him because, in his very nature, he is love. And he cares for us. He stands ready to strengthen and ease and comfort when we take the step of giving all our pain to him. We can be relieved of needless pain. The hymn writer says it best: we can “carry” everything to God in prayer.

Loving Father, is it because of pride that I carry my own burdens? Do I think that you might fail me? Do I wonder if you truly love me enough to care for me? Help me place my trust in you by accepting you at your word, by casting all my anxiety on you.

By Marilyn Ehle
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“…I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” Jeremiah 29:11 (The Message)

‘You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.’ Song of Solomon 4:7

In her poem ‘What to do with bits of string’, poet Luci Shaw writes, “Women in Africa roll old magazines into beads, varnishing them for sale in other worlds, jewels from junk.” When I read those words, I recalled the roadside stand in an African country where a young girl sat selling ornaments made by her mother and aunt. Earrings, shiny red metal cut into small circles with the Coca Cola  logo clearly visible. Bracelets made from newsprint rolled tightly into cylinders only a quarter inch in diameter. Brooches crafted from fallen bits of woods, rubbed shiny and with a safety pin glued to the back.

I wear bits of jewellery like these and love to tell stories of their creation when people offer their compliments. Some women have even asked how they can learn to make such baubles to earn extra spending money although many grow silent and somewhat pensive when I explain that the mere pennies I paid will buy rice for a family’s supper that evening.

Too often we see ourselves only as ordinary junk. Perhaps we have not grown up with affirmation or, much worse, we have been abused and heard shouts that we are nothing but junk. We compare ourselves to those who possess more, who have attained more, who appear more beautiful or handsome. We see ourselves as mere bottle caps, bit of discarded wood or newsprint.

Then God breaks in with the message He declared at creation:  “This is VERY good!” And as He works in our lives to re-create us after sin’s damaging work, He says: “I know what I’m doing…You are altogether beautiful…I have plans to take care of you…” In a very real sense, God is taking the raw material of our lives, polishing us, shaping us into not mere baubles, but into valuable gems to tell the world that we are jewels, not junk.

Lord, is it unseemly, prideful to call myself a jewel? Or is a statement that gives you all the glory for loving me so much? Help me see myself—and others—as beautiful because of your great love.

Spend time today thanking God specifically for the way He has created you. Then look for someone who needs an affirming word that they, too, have been created as precious jewels.

By Marilyn Ehle
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“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus… And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them… Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?… I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.”  Romans 8 (NLT)

We stood on the shores of the Pacific Ocean as the waves relentlessly rolled into shore. Seabirds soared from rock to rock, seemingly unaware of the power of the surge just below them. With no traffic sounds to obscure our hearing, only the roar of the water and the occasional chirp of the birds were audible. Wave after wave. Thunder after thunder.

I thought of this just a few hours ago when I heard the news that the granddaughter of a dear friend had been killed in an auto accident. Then an email message that another friend, suffering from cancer, is weakening. Earlier in the week we received word that an acquaintance had died suddenly. Wave after wave. Thunder after thunder.

“…when sorrows like sea billows roll…” That’s how one man described his lot after financial ruin from the 1871 Great Chicago Fire, and then the death of his four daughters in a transatlantic ship collision. Horatio Spafford went to meet his wife in England after his daughters deaths and when the ship on which he was travelling neared the place of the sea tragedy, he began writing the words to a great hymn:

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
’It is well, it is well, with my soul.’

Spafford’s poetry—and his later life as a faithful follower of Jesus—indicates how he could say, “It is well with my soul.” Six important words: “Thou has taught me to day…” This man and his wife had walked closely with Jesus, absorbed His love and learned to trust Him in the good times so when the hard, even tragic, times came, through their tears they knew enough of God’s character to know that nothing could separate them—or their daughters—from His love.

We can’t prevent all the accidents and illnesses of life, but we can learn to make Christ the center of our lives each day, trusting Him so that “Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, ‘It is well with my soul.’”

Thank you, Father, for being always present with us. Help me trust you even when I can’t see your hand so that “it is well with my soul” will be daily on my lips.

by Marilyn Ehle
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“You belong to God, my dear children…because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.”  1 John 4:4 (NLT)

Some time ago I was invited to a reunion where people who had attended the same grade school would gather. Since I hadn’t seen many of these people for years—in some cases, not since we had left those grade school years—I anticipated the event with joy. At the check in desk, we were given name tags with pictures from those long ago years so we would recognize each other! My, how we had changed but old relationships were quickly renewed as we reminisced and exchanged new information.

In the middle of one such conversation, I glanced toward the door where a woman stood, glancing uneasily into the room. In spite of the passage of years, I recognized Sharon and walked over to greet and welcome her to the party. “Oh, I don’t know if I want to come in. School years weren’t particularly happy for me. I never felt like I belonged. And I don’t feel like I belong now.”

Psychologists and doctors say a sense of belonging is a basic human need, just like food and shelter. Feeling that we belong is important in seeing value in our lives. In the 1600’s, writers of what came to be known as the Heidelberg Catechism (a document of questions and answers designed to teach the biblical basics of the Christian faith) anticipated and understood the importance of belonging. In answer to the question,

What is your only comfort in life and in death?”,

the startling and life affirming answer rings out:

That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

I don’t have to pretend to be part of a group. No more wondering if I speak, act, live like others in order to be accepted. Money, education, status, occupation are not prerequisites for this belonging. At a much deeper level, I need never wonder if God is waiting for me to get cleaned up enough to meet His standards. Nothing I do can make God love me more. Or less.

Thus I can sing along with the poet: It is well, it is well, with my soul.
* I Belong.*Horacio Spafford, 1873

Belonging to you, Father, is my safe place. I nestle in your arms, I am protected by your strength, I am loved forever.

By Marilyn Ehle
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Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone… Do not take revenge… If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink...”  Romans 12:14-20

Civility seems like such a meager word. At its very least it means politeness or courtesy. It’s what we expect from children as we train them to say “please” and “thank you.”

Several years ago, Doctors Guy and Heidi Burgess, Co-Directors of the Conflict Research Consortium at the University of Colorado wrote, “Clearly, civility has to mean something more than mere politeness. The movement will have accomplished little if all it does is get people to say, “excuse me please“, while they (figuratively) stab you in the back. Civility also cannot mean “roll over and play dead.

Jesus calls Christians to words and actions that go far beyond civility, even civility as described by the Burgesses. His call is life altering, indeed it is death to self. His standard for speech and lifestyle requires far more than a weekend retreat where opposing sides practice diplomatic debate. Jesus calls for authenticity along with vulnerability. When two of Jesus’ disciples wanted to defend their much loved Savior (“Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”), He rebuked them.

To be sure, civility does not mean Christians never disagree among themselves or with others. The Apostle Paul puts it quite succinctly, “Speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15). But it would be profitable if Christians—when speaking the truth—would measure their words against the guidelines given to First Century Christians who lived in a hostile world.

By Marilyn Ehle
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Pay attention to what you hear… Mark 4:24

It was a beautiful quiet moment. I sat on a shaded park bench without interruption of cell phones, appointments or other demands for my attention. An occasional bird song provided a hymn of praise while just beyond me the sun shone through pine branches. I could imagine God as my touchable companion.

And then came squawks and screams! Suddenly a brood of magpies flew from branch to branch, their chorus more cacophonous than melodic as they quarrelled over some tasty morsel. My idyll was broken, my mood shattered, my emotions driven from contemplation to disappointment.

Pausing momentarily in self-pity, I began to hear not magpies but a squawking, screaming world. People lost in confusion, fighting over false morsels the world offers, flying from place to place, person to person seeking satisfaction. While I need time for uninterrupted contemplation, my other call is to live in the world as Jesus did. He invited his friends to “get away and rest awhile,” but he was also willing to be interrupted by a woman drained by life’s miseries, by children needing attention, by a curious, outcast man sitting on a tree branch trying to see Jesus.

The poet John O’Donohue wrote, “One of the deepest longings of the human soul is to be seen,” and the squawking magpies remind me to not only see the souls’ longings, but also hear them. I am called to be an imitator of God as I listen: “Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

By Marilyn Ehle
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How precious are your thoughts concerning me.” Psalm 139:17

It had been anything but a ‘quiet’ time. Although I had closed the door and opened my Bible, my attention skittered between meetings just attended, people needs for which I felt responsible and future events crowding the calendar.  Glance at the clock too soon revealed that it was time to leave my private chamber and tend to the day’s responsibilities. ‘So much for spiritual preparation.’ was my somewhat whiny comment to God.as if He had been physically standing before me: “That’s okay, my daughter. I just wanted to sit here with you. I’ve enjoyed our time together.”

We delude ourselves into thinking that our quiet times are primarily for our own benefit. We are intellectually aware that God is always with us, that His eye is not only on the sparrow but on each of us. We claim a personal relationship with Him yet are slow to understand much of what that means.

How different would be our attitudes if we began to learn that we come into His presence to give Him joy.

God, I am so grateful for your personal love for me. To think that you simply desire me to be in your presence is overwhelming. I love you.

by Marilyn Ehle
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If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.  John 14:9

Dan’s earthly father had been cold, distant, unloving and cruelly strict. Although through the years, Dan heard that his Heavenly Father was loving and had even mentally accepted that truth, when terminal illness struck and death inevitably loomed, he seemed afraid to “let go.”

The will to live is strong and physical death exists as the last symptom of Eden’s curse, but why do some face it with peace, even joy and anticipation? Because Dan had no earthly equivalent of a loving father, did God the Father seem “too big” for a personal relationship, too distant for Dan’s—and our—scarred minds to see and understand?

But Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” This Jesus whispered “Mary” to a guilt-stricken, broken-hearted woman. This Jesus invaded culture to touch a leper. This Jesus gathered ignored children to his side. This Jesus fell bloodied from whips and humiliated from curses. This Jesus—this God—is just the right size for our trust and love.

By Marilyn Ehle
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